U.S. sanctions firms for rights abuses on Anti-Corruption Day

FILE - The U.S. Treasury Department building viewed from the Washington Monument, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Washington. Hackers got into computers at the U.S. Treasury Department and possibly other federal agencies, touching off a government response involving the National Security Council. Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot said Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 that the government is aware of reports about the hacks. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, file)
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By FATIMA HUSSEIN

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department said Friday it is imposing sanctions on a broad array of people and companies around the world for corruption and human rights abuses — from illegal fishing operations in Chinese waters to kickbacks in Guatemala — in recognition of International Anti-Corruption Day.

Those sanctioned include the 15-member Russian elections commission, which oversaw a sham referendum in Russia-occupied Ukraine in September, a group of companies and people linked to illegal fishing operations and human rights abuses in Chinese waters and a church founder in the Philippines charged with sex trafficking.

Other people and firms from Iran, the Western Balkans, Liberia and El Salvador were also among those identified by the U.S. federal government for financial penalties and blocks on property located or managed in the U.S.

The wide-sweeping sanctions announcement comes on the day that the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and aligns with Biden administration officials’ participation in the International Anti-Corruption Conference this week. The conference lineup includes speeches by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan and other officials who endorsed various anti-corruption efforts domestically and worldwide.

The sanctions targets announced Friday include a group of companies accused of illegal fishing and worker abuse in Chinese waters. One company, Dalian Ocean Fishing Co. Ltd., maintained working conditions so dangerous that five workers died after 13 months at sea, with three of the workers’ bodies dumped into the ocean rather than repatriated to their homes.

A senior department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the U.S. action, said on a call with reporters that Dalian employs crew members who work an average of 18 hours a day, live off expired food and drink dirty water.

Illegal unreported fishing is associated with distant water fishing, where boats fish in other countries’ or international waters. China’s distant water fishing fleet is the largest in the world.

Additionally, three politicians from Guatemala, including Allan Estuardo Rodriguez Reyes, the country’s former president of the Congress, face sanctions for alleged corruption and using political influence to get kickbacks and other favors.

And in Russia, several presidential administration officials and the country’s elections commission will be blocked from the U.S. financial system. A U.S. Treasury statement says that for years the Kremlin’s elections commission has touted “clean and transparent elections in Russia that have been riddled with irregularities and credible accusations that the Kremlin has carefully managed the results.”

The sanctioned people and companies’ property and interests in the U.S. will be blocked and American companies that do business with the sanctioned entities will have to wind down their ties with them.

The administration uses a Trump-era executive order that implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act as its authority to issue the sanctions.

“Over the past year, Treasury has made combatting corruption and serious human rights abuse a top priority,” said Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson in a statement. “By exposing the egregious behavior of these actors, we can help disrupt their activities, dismantle their networks, and starve them of resources.”

Treasury is pursuing more anti-corruption efforts in the future, by soon creating a database that will contain personal information on the owners of at least 32 million U.S. businesses as part of an effort to combat illicit finance.

Sullivan said at the anti-corruption conference earlier this week that the administration supports the ENABLERS Act, which would expand the definition of the Bank Secrecy Act — and would require accountants, lawyers and other professionals to conduct due diligence checks on their clients’ money, to ensure it doesn’t derive from money laundering.

Right now the Bank Secrecy Act only applies to financial institutions. “We encourage Congress to enact it into law as soon as possible,” he said.